1917 – 2011
Lois Purnell Robertson was born in Thames in 1917, the third of four children. Her mother, Janet, had come from England with her family as an 8-year old and settled in the Hokianga. Janet taught in the local Maori school where she met and married Herbert Purnell, another teacher.
The couple moved to Auckland where Herbert studied law and then to Thames, where he established a law practice with Peter Jensen. Lois was born there in Thames.
Back copies of the NZ Baptist are full of mentions of the Purnell name, usually in connection with Herbert’s role as the Sunday school superintendant. Lois’ name appears frequently also, receiving a prize or a certificate almost every year. Once, in 1930, she achieved 98% in the scripture exams.
Lois was not only an avid student, she was also a teacher. Members of the Thames congregation still recall the impact she made as a leader of the school crusaders club.
Then came the Depression years, and the family lost their Kaitiaki farm. They kept one at Waitakaruru, however. It was managed by Herbert’s brother Alf, and used by Lois’ aunt as a Sunday school. The family would often visit in the weekends, and Crusaders and Bible class outings to the farm were frequent events.
Lois’ father was a firm believer in education and, contrary to the spirit of the age, sent both his daughters to university. Lois stayed with sister Mima in a bedsit in Herne Bay, Auckland, sharing a bed that was also their desk, and budgeting with pennies in jam jars.
She met a young Colvin Robertson there. Lois worshipped at Ponsonby Baptist, (where Colvin had also scored high marks in Sunday school exams in previous years). When they met he was working during the day and studying at nights for an accountancy qualification.
Lois returned home with a BA and a fiancé. In 1940 she taught at Thames High School and was again very active in the life of the church, leading services during the missions appeal month and becoming the first preacher at the new monthly youth services.
In February 1941 Lois and Colvin were married. They borrowed Lois’ father’s car and went camping in the Coromandel for their honeymoon before starting married life living with his mother in Herne Bay. It was war time and accommodation was scarce.
Colvin opted to move from the Army to the Air Force, where he trained as a pilot at Wigram Airbase near Christchurch. He spent the war moving from one place to another around the country.
Their first child, Helen, was born in 1942, followed soon after by Chip, then Mark in 1947, Stephen in 1949 and Joanna in 1951.
After the war, Colvin worked for Farmer’s Trading Company, owned by his uncle, Robert Laidlaw. To his family’s surprise, he left the company and moved to Thames in 1945. There Lois’s father helped them buy Renshaw’s Hardware.
In 1948, Chip died aged four. He had been ill with what was thought to be flu, and Lois found him dead one morning. Lois used the pain of this time to comfort others in her turn. When one of the church lost a child in recent years, Lois was able to say, “I know how you feel”and provide invaluable support.
Colvin quickly diversified his business. Along with some old Air Force friends he set up an aerial topdressing business. Lois continued to work in the shop, run the house and garden, and care for the children. Both were busy in the life of the church. Lois was, again, a Sunday school teacher.
Lois and Colvin were often described as very hospitable. At one time Lois was involved in the refugee resettlement programme run by the church, teaching English to Cambodian refugees.
Colvin sold the shop and set up his accountancy practice, and was also involved in church leadership and civic duties. Like his father-in-law and Keith, his brother-in-law, he served for many years as a member of the town council. At one time he was Deputy to Mayor Gavin Smith, while Gavin was Thames Baptist Pastor and Colvin was treasurer.
Tragedy came again in 1979 when Mark, who had inherited his grandfather’s can-do, risk-taking nature, tried to take off with a heavy load of fertiliser in tricky winds. His wing clipped a fence and he died in the crash. Lois said, “I know God won’t give us more than we can bear, but I wish he didn’t have such a high opinion of me!”
A wonderfully warm woman, Lois kept her humour even in the pain and discomfort of her last years. She did not have an easy end, suffering the frustration of memory loss and confusion and knowing that she wasn’t able to think straight. Having cared for others all her life, she struggled to accept that others were caring for her.
Lois died on June 17 at Rosedale Village, aged 94. A service was held at Thames Baptist Church on June 23 followed by interment at Totara Memorial Park.
– Taken from Roger Driver-Burgess’ eulogy